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Kyrie Irving return: Here’s what Nets PG needs to prove in season debut Wednesday vs. Pacers

Kyrie Irving return: Here's what Nets PG needs to prove in season debut Wednesday vs. Pacers
Written by publishing team

Kyrie Irving returns to the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday night, and with his part-time status, his self-absorption, his incredible but sometimes unreliable talent, his personal attitude to vaccinations versus basketball, and his constant sensitivity to looking at me await something simple. The only question Irving himself can answer, in court, apart from anything else:

Is it all worth it?

Among all the quirkiness of this NBA season, is the curious fact that Irving has never been in a better position to show that his talent translates in a true way to the Nets.

You’d think a player of his stature, an NBA champion with seven All-Star picks to his name, would be out of such questions. You’d think outsmarting Steph Curry in the final moments of the 2016 NBA Finals would settle matters. You’d think, and a lot of people already do, that Kyrie’s individual prowess on court was the answer to such doubts. And you are wrong.

A recent conversation with the NBA general manager summed up the contradiction. When asked about Kyrie, the GM went on a momentary monologue about all the things that come with Irving behind the scenes — a quick-gossip celebration of warning signs and divas behavior that might make Antonio Brown blush. I was told, “It’s a mess.” “It’s a disaster in the locker room.”

Would you avoid including him on your team if the opportunity presents itself?

He sighed, “No.” “No, I would have brought him. He’s too talented not to do that.”

And so Catch-22 The Nets now finds itself. Irving is a mess, sure, but they need him — now more than ever, with plenty of COVID-related absences. And so Kyrie Irving is back. With no guarantee that it will work.

The actual reward for having Irving on the court has always been as bewildering and bizarre as much of his off-court behavior. Talking about flat earth made good headlines. But it was his win-lose impact that really mattered, and it wasn’t as easy to correlate as the shape of the ground or the points of Irving’s square.

Kyrie joined a very good Celtics when he arrived in 2017, a young team that would have already reached the Eastern Conference finals without him, and that would make another team with Irving injured as a Celtic. Yet they didn’t make that next leap with Irving among them. They have retreated.

The Nets have also been an intriguing testing ground for what it means to have Irving in the mix.

Some numbers at these two stations:

Kerry played 127 games for Boston in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. The Celtics were 78-49 with him on the floor for a 0.614 win percentage. However, they went 16-11 without Kyrie during this period for a much higher .702 win percentage.

This same influence carried over to Brooklyn.

Kerry played in 20 games for the Nets in the 2019-20 season against Spencer Dinwiddy and Karis Levert. They went 8-12 during that time, the 0.400 mark. However, Brooklyn has been 27-25 in 52 games without him – just over .500, and noticeably better than when he played.

Last season, Kyrie played in 54 games for the Nets, and they went 36-18 in those games, and 12-6 without him – basically.

A lot to say a little: His talent is not necessarily a sure path to success.

A lot has happened since then, of course, with the Heart of the League pandemic and Kerry’s decision to remain immune, which means, given New York City rules, he can’t play home games in Brooklyn. Until recently – until the Nets’ desperation as NBA players introduced league health and safety protocols forced them to change – his team faced this situation with a complete shutdown of the team.

Which brings us back to Kyrie Irving against the Pacers in Indianapolis tonight.

It is a unique time. The trio of Kevin Durant- James Harden-Kyrie Irving is not far from the summer when they could see Harden and Irving cancel their deals, if they so choose. The East is getting tougher than it was when KD and Kyrie first looked at Brooklyn as a destination. And we know, from his history, that Irving can be pretty unpredictable regarding his future in playing.

Plus: It’s not easy to win a championship, even if you have the talent of Brooklyn. Irving would never have done it without LeBron. Durant didn’t do it without Steve. Many, many men did not do this at all.

So there’s pressure, a sense of time moving quickly, and a need, all mixed in with the expectations surrounding Brooklyn. All are perfect for Irving to step in and show more of his talent. to show its value. To show his value to a team striving to win, not, after all, flashy stats and great skills.

He might meet that moment. There was humility and originality – or so it seemed – to Kerry’s first comments to the media last week as his comeback loomed.

“I knew the consequences,” he said. “I wasn’t ready for them, by any means. By the season I thought I’d be a full-time teammate and go out and have fun and do a great kind of basketball out there, but unfortunately, it just didn’t happen that way. Things happen for a reason, Now we are here and I am grateful for that.

“Incredibly grateful just to have you back in the building, to be welcomed back with open arms by my teammates, and the whole organization. You won’t lie. It was relatively difficult to watch from the sidelines with everything that’s going on in the world.”

These comments are good. They were welcomed, even. But it’s also as unimportant as, say, Kyrie’s passive-aggressive shots at LeBron James on his podcast in 2020, or how he felt about playing in LeBron’s shadow in Cleveland, or any of the other big and small signs over the years Kyrie could be less than Poetic and simple in the dressing room.

What matters now is how any of these things translate into gains or losses.

Take Aaron Rodgers for example. Yesterday, a whole conversation erupted on social media and across the sports media ecosystem about how much Rodgers liked him and his sudden crossroads with his nomination as the best player. This happened after an NFL MVP voter told a Chicago radio station that he would block the Green Bay Packers’ MVP vote because, basically, he doesn’t like this guy.

It’s a brow lift, and pretty dumb. Rodgers may indeed be the most unloved player in the NFL, but he’s also almost certainly the one, two or three most “valuable.” The Hazams are 13-3, they’ve locked up the NFC top seed, and they’d be – perhaps, generously – a team with four wins without him.

Litter off the field can sometimes be a sign of what’s going to happen on the field and its impact. See: Antonio Brown.

But not always, as Rodgers’ example shows.

Kyrie is the NBA version of a very talented and not very likeable player. He is rude to the media. He is unkind and underappreciated by his former colleagues, including the stars. He in the past, with passive-aggressive folly, undermined the men who at that time were teammates. He trampled on the logos of previous teams, he was so self-absorbed, he missed matches he didn’t need, he was, often, over and over again, the mess the GM put me in.

Ah, but the talent.

Either Irving makes the Nets the contender for the title they’re supposed to be, which pushes them to another level and helps them take a really deep run once we get to the playoffs.

Otherwise it’s what he’s been hinting at for years: Not worth it.

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